The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate‎

The One and Only Ivan

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When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it.  It just sounded too depressing.  Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it.  I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp.  This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit.  So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.

Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny.  The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light.  My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?”  Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! ;-)  He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals.  The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan.  I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.

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Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon

Coldbrook

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At a secret lab in the Appalachians, Jonah Jones and his group of scientists have found a gateway to… well, they don’t quite know what yet.  It’s what comes in through the gate that is the problem.  A zombie plague from another world rapidly infects the scientists, the U.S. and then the world.  Holly Wright manages to escape through the doorway.  What will she find there – a cure for the plague, escape, or maybe just some explanation?  And who is this dark mysterious figure coming after Jonah in his dreams?  Will the earth be saved?

If you are a fan of zombie apocalypse books, you will love this one.  Can’t wait for the next book in this exciting series.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

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I would highly recommend this beautifully written work of historical fiction that alternates between the stories of two children during WWII.  The two main characters are Marie-Laure, a young blind French girl who flees occupied Paris with her father, a key master of the Natural Museum of History, and Werner, a German orphan whose tinkering with an old radio lends him technical skills that throw him headlong into a Hitler Youth group which leads him directly into the heart of the war.

The action moves in waves from Germany to France, from pre-war years to action in the midst of war to the end of fighting and back again.  Doerr’s development of the two main characters continues even after the war ends and finally finishes in the present day with an underlying message of the innocence and humanity of these two young characters as their lives are sadly forced into a path that will someday have them meet as enemies. The book can help today’s youth to understand events and conditions in Europe during the Second World War, and the lives of individuals on each side of the conflict.

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The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club

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Ever wonder what it would be like to stand in the shoes of an astronaut’s wife?  If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, I can almost guarantee that you did!  The book goes through the years of lift-offs, landings and explosions with an emphasis on the wives’ friendship and support of one another.  Through the years, the book offers a glimpse into their lives by showing cheating husbands, widows, colorful personalities among the astronauts and their wives, the first divorce, the women’s liberation movement and political mayhem.  The book doesn’t go into that much depth –  it’s more of an overview of their lives and of the times.

What I didn’t like was that the book jumped around often, so it was confusing to remember which wife was married to which astronaut as the book went on.  There were a few pictures in the book of some of the wives, but since Koppel frequently referred to them by their first names, it became confusing as more astronauts were added to the program.  It would have been very helpful to have a chart showing the husband’s name and the wife’s name … like a family tree.  Overall, I enjoyed the book since I was a child of the 60s and could relate to those times.

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Omega Days by John Campbell

Omega Days

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Another Zombie apocalypse novel.  And well worth your time!  Well drawn characters battle for their lives in an America ravaged by a zombie horde.  Father Xavier Church questions his faith, as one might imagine, but shows bravery and skill in surviving and leading other survivors.

Skye Dennison, an incoming college student at the University of California, Berkeley, watches as her family is killed.  After her own rescue she learns to defend herself.  Young and brave, her driving purpose is revenge.

Then there is Angie West, star of a History Channel reality show that features her family’s gun business.

Our characters fight for survival and move toward a final gathering that presages the next book in the series.  As the book switches between the adventures of each small group, the reader feels sorry to leave one group, but the next is even more intriguing.  Zombie fans take note!

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Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

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It’s wartime, 1940.  Maggie Hope, raised in America, is actually British and, due to the unexpected inheritance of a house, finds herself in London and in need of a job.  Most unexpectedly, she winds up working as a typist for the prime minister, Winston Churchill himself.  Maggie’s background is actually math, and she soon finds herself caught up in intrigue and ciphers.  This book contains marvelous period detail and interesting characters.  It is both a first-rate historical novel and a fine murder mystery.  Recommended.

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Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Roomies

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I think this would have been an excellent book to have read the summer before I went away to college.  Although I am not an overly shy person, I was kinda freaked out about the concept of rooming with someone I had never met before.  I find it odd that it never crossed my mind to try to get in touch — and that my college didn’t really try to foster early communications either.  Things may have been strained that first semester, but I still lived to tell the tale.

Aside from the obvious worries about classes and living with a stranger, Elizabeth and Lauren also have family relationships and friendships that are about to change.  Lauren is only moving about an hour away (from San Francisco to Berkeley) so staying in touch with family and friends should, theoretically, be easy enough.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is going to be moving across the country (from New Jersey to California), so she won’t be able to take any quick visits home to see her mom or her friends.  Still, distance is not the only factor that determines how hard a move will be.  Lauren is leaving her tight-knit family full of younger siblings whom she typically helps to care for.  She worries that she will miss them too much or that they won’t be able to manage without her.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is all too used to being alone in her house and is excited to get away from home.  She is also hoping to spend some quality time with her father (who owns an art gallery in San Francisco), but doesn’t know how to start up a relationship with the father who’s never really been there for her.  Readers get to peek into the minds, and emails, of each of the girls as she prepares for moving in with her new “roomie.”  I’m certain that fans of Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, How to Save a Life, Lucy Variations) will love this, and I’m desperately hoping for more YA from Tara Altebrando.

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